Hyundai debuted the prototype of the Nexo at the January 8, 2018 Consumer Electronics Show. The Nexo is a sports utility vehicle with a crossover design that is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. A hydrogen fuel cell uses hydrogen as the source of power. It converts the electrical power of hydrogen into mechanical power by reacting it with oxygen to create water. Hyundai is using technology in the Nexo that could also be applicable to self-driving cars.
Hyundai Nexo’s Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology
Hyundai believes that hydrogen power is the way of the future when it comes to vehicles that are environmentally friendly. The Nexo is the result of 20 years of research and development on hydrogen fuel cells. The fuel cell delivers 135 kilowatts of power. The motor in the Nexo provides 291 foot-pounds of torque. Its range is 370 miles, and it gets up to 60 miles per gallon combined on city streets and highway driving. The long range of the Nexo could be useful to self-driving cars, especially those that are designed for long-haul highway driving. The fuel economy of the Nexo could also be applicable to self-driving cars, allowing for more ferrying of passengers in the urban environment before a refill of fuel is needed.
Technology on the Inside of the Hyundai Nexo
While its exterior design is aerodynamic and stylish, the technology that Hyundai has on the inside is a considerable advance in the operation of autonomous cars. The prototype Nexo was able to get real-time information and connections with a 5G network. That type of a connection is up to 100 times faster than the 4G networks that are available in most places. Since self-driving cars rely on a lot of information from the sensors, environment, and other vehicles, a faster connection could be beneficial when the vehicles are made commercially available in urban environments. The fuel cell is expected to have a lifetime of about 10 years.
Lane Assist and Self-Parking Features
Autonomous cars will need to be able to stay in their own lanes when driving on public roads with other vehicles. The Hyundai Nexo is outfitted with lane assist technology. That technology uses LIDAR to detect lane markers. The power steering assist in the vehicle kicks in when the lane assist detects a departure from the lane of travel. The Nexo also has self-parking capacity. It will be able to park itself in a designated parking space without help.
Navigating a Roundabout
While at the Olympic Village, the Hyundai Nexo was also able to autonomously navigate a roundabout. Navigating a roundabout is a considerable challenge to a human driver, and it is an accomplishment for an autonomous car to do it. To achieve this feat, the vehicle uses lane tracking software, obstacle detection sensing, and artificial intelligence to read signs and signals and visualize the other vehicles already in the circle and waiting to enter the circle. It used LIDAR, radar, and cameras to manage its trip through the roundabout. Self-driving cars will also need to combine all these technologies for such complex maneuvers.
Test Driving the Nexo
Hyundai allowed its Nexo prototype to be driven around the Olympic Village at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Those vehicles were able to drive themselves 118 miles from Seoul to Pyeongchang. That marks the first known time that an autonomous car went on such a long journey. The Nexo made its trip at the SAE Level 4 of autonomy. However, the demo vehicle that was at the Olympic Village had more features of self-driving cars than the production models will have.
Future Plans and Commercialization
According to Kim Sae-hoon, who is the vice president of Hyundai Motor Group’s fuel cell group, an autonomous car will require a lot of power to operate the artificial intelligence software. The Hyundai engineers explain that the software of a fully autonomous car could require as much as electricity as 50 to 100 laptop computers. A self-driving car with an electric battery will not be able to provide the power for the vehicle’s computer and the power to move the chassis for that long of a period. Kim Sae-hoon explains that the hydrogen fuel cell allows for the efficient operation of the vehicle in complicated environments. For example, places with a lot of pedestrians and other obstacles would require a lot of power from the LIDAR, cameras, sensors and software. The hydrogen fuel cells could consistently deliver that power to the computer and to the engine. Hyundai plans to have SAE Level 4 self-driving cars on the roads and available commercially in “smart cities” by 2021. It estimates that more autonomous features could be commercially available in its vehicles by 2025